Damon Hogan often was misunderstood in school.

He frequently found himself in trouble because when he finished his school work faster than other students, he made funny noises to ward off his boredom. He perfected sounding like a barking dog, chirping cricket or car alarm, all the while his classmates finished their work.

Teachers thought that Hogan, 19, might have autism or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, commonly known as ADHD. 

He shared his story of getting tested — and read the poem he wrote about that experience — at a recent special education listening session sponsored by Chalkbeat Detroit and the Detroit Parent Network. Watch the poem below and scroll down to hear Hogan tell the story behind it.

“The doctors never could find anything wrong with me,” said Hogan, who attended the now-shuttered Nsoroma Institute, and graduated from the Ben Carson High School of Science and Medicine in 2016.

His lack of a diagnosis didn’t stop other students, who thought he was weird, from picking on him and bullying him; Hogan even recalled teachers telling him he would never amount to anything. He recounted feeling demeaned and isolated, describing that experience in a powerful poem:

Despite his challenges in school, Hogan discovered he was a talented poet and honed his craft in the InsideOut Literary Arts Citywide Poets Program. InsideOut Literary Arts is a non-profit organization that helps young Detroiters explore their inner lives through written and spoken poetry.

Just about every week since he was in eighth grade, Hogan has met with the group at the main branch of the Detroit Public Library. It helped immensely when his coach, Ben Alfaro, a celebrated poet and author, told Hogan he was perfectly normal.

“He told me I was just different, and that’s OK,” Hogan said.

A member of the 2018 Detroit Youth Poetry Slam Team, Hogan competed for the final time in the 2018 Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Festival in July. At age 19, he’s aging out of the program, which serves 13- to 19-year-olds this year.

Since those days when teachers and students labeled him as strange, Hogan said he hasn’t changed much. Except that now, he’s a sophomore business major at Wayne State University. Even there, he relishes being silly, now and then.

“A lot of times I’m doing something I’m probably not supposed to be doing, but it’s just who I am,” he said, recalling playing his music too loudly on campus and attracting the attention of campus police.

“I’m just wild and spontaneous.”